I don’t think I know of any reviewer that has worked as hard as you to understand and indulge in the hobby so quickly. Excellent work and thank you
Precog’s Budget IEM (Sub-$200) Picks
Those who have followed my reviews for some time will know that I tend to mainly cover IEMs on the more pricey end of the spectrum. In this vein, I freely admit that I do have some bias against budget IEMs. It’s just a fact that more expensive IEMs tend to sound better; therefore, they entertain my interest more. Tend, meaning not always, OK? Trust me, I’ve heard my share of flagship fatalities and my not-so-flattering reviews are proof of that.
But that’s just one reason why I don’t cover budget IEMs often. Really, the biggest problem with budget IEMs is that they’re a dime a dozen. The ones that make enough of an impression - much less a good impression - for me to take note are few and far between. Still, let there be no mistake: There are budget IEMs that slip through the chinks in my jaded paradigm and meet, sometimes exceed, my lofty expectations. I’ve even had the pleasure of adding many of these IEMs to my own collection. So in this write-up, I want to share the rare sub-$200 IEMs that I give my stamp of approval to.
To keep things interesting, I’ll rank my choices from my least favorite to my favorite. Hopefully, that’ll keep you reading (although you can skip to the end just to spite me if you’d like). Of course, here are some disclaimers. There are no set metrics for my rankings other than subjective preference. And before I get the “Why didn’t (insert X IEM here) make the list?” questions, there’s one of two reasons: 1) I didn’t like it and, trust me, I don’t like a lot of IEMs, or 2) I simply haven’t heard it yet.
#10 Moondrop SSR: It’s got no bass, it’s ridiculously midrange forward thanks to no less than 13dB of pinna compensation, and it’s got something of a mid-treble suckout that graphs don’t reflect. On the basis of tonality, I definitely can’t stand how lean and shouty the SSR is. But it’s also got some of the best technicalities that $50 can buy. One of the first things one might notice about the SSR is its transient speed. It is snappier than any other IEM I’ve heard in its price range. Layering on the SSR is also a standout with an ample sense of space between instruments; imaging as a whole benefits. If you have ears of steel or are just a sucker for weeb tuning, the SSR is an IEM you’re going to want to put on the list.
#9 Thieaudio Legacy 4: This is an IEM that doesn’t pull the punches. It’s bright, forward, and with an emphasis on sheer clarity. The dynamic driver being used on the L4 is a significant step up from one in the L3 and L5 (yes, if you’re asking me the L4 is actually better than the L5). Now personally, I don’t like this IEM. I think it has too much upper-midrange and the lower-treble comes off as abrasive; consequently, it quickly becomes fatiguing for my ears. But those who want a more in-your-face listen with a solid technical foundation will want to check out the L4.
#8 Final Audio E500: The cheapest earphone Final Audio makes and, if you ask me, ironically their best sounding (indeed, I’d handily take this over their $2000 flagship IEM). Bass is mid-bass emphasized for a good sense of punch without getting out of control. In a very un-Final Audio like fashion, the midrange isn’t a shouty mess and sounds, well, simply neutral. Treble is fairly soft; this is a darker IEM in general, but it won’t fatigue. If you’ve no luck finding a Sony MH755, or desire yourself a more neutral option, then you can do no wrong with the Final Audio E500. Cop yourself some of those Final Type-E eartips while you’re at it because they’re handy for taming IEMs not as well-tuned as this one is.
#7 Tin Audio T4: I haven’t been the biggest fan of most Tin IEMs I’ve heard - from memes like the P2 to the perplexing regression to the common denominator that was the T5 - but I do have a healthy appreciation for this one. The T4 plays to Tin’s roots, following the neutral-style tuning that won them the hearts of many audiophiles. It’s a leaner presentation to be sure, but no less a solid one. Technicalities are about what you’d expect for the price; that is to say, again, simply solid. You might be wondering where the T2 is on this list. After all, many would consider that IEM to be a budget benchmark. Well, I didn’t like it. It sounded very un-resolving and mediocre, neutral-tuning for $50 be damned.
#6 SeeAudio Yume: The Yume is an instance of one hand giveth and the other taketh away. On that latter hand, the Yume’s just not very resolving. Notes are slightly blunted and mushy; for imaging, I’m inclined to say the Yume’s actually below average for its price point. On the former hand, the tonality here is class-leading. It’s neutral with bass boost; a clean, sub-bass oriented shelf. The midrange rises into the pinna compensation and slopes off from the upper-midrange beautifully, and there’s just an extra bit of spice in the mid-treble to keep things from getting too stale. Sure, some might still find the Yume boring, but you won’t find anyone saying it’s bad. Stack on excellent fit, and you have a well-rounded IEM for those desiring ease of listening over all else. Heck, the Yume plays with a lot of kilobuck stuff for tonality.
#5 Samsung Galaxy Buds: Hey, nobody said this list was limited to just wired IEMs. And trust me, these actually sound pretty darn good. This is the first Harman-tuned IEM on this list; perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Samsung owns Harman International. The Buds have good sub-bass, an upper-midrange emphasis, and quite a lot of lower-treble. Yeah, you might also not like the scooped lower-midrange, but as a whole? There’s little to complain about here. Technicalities are more or less a case of “it’s a TWS,” but I’ve heard much, much worse. And the timbre is surprisingly good for a TWS. Don’t go for the Buds+ unless you really need that extra battery life - because if you’re asking me, they don’t sound quite as good.
#4 Ikko OH10: Probably the least safe recommendation on this list. Do not, and I repeat, do not consider buying this IEM unless you enjoy a decidedly “Asian” sound-signature with an emphasis on the bass and upper-midrange regions accordingly. The bass tactility on the OH10 is definitely some of the better I’ve heard in this price range. But perhaps the most surprising part about the Ikko OH10 would be that it has the best treble extension of any IEM on this list. It peaks strongly for air at 15kHz with a good amount of zing; as a result, imaging is quite impressive too. However, whether you can hear that high up or not is another concern entirely. So hey, just don’t shoot the messenger if this IEM ends up sounding quite dark to you.
#3 Sony MH755: Sony doesn’t make these anymore, but if you can find a legit one, you’ve got yourself one of the best IEMs for bass under $500. I’m not kidding by the way. The MH755 follows the Harman target very closely. It’s got recessed lower-mids, a shouty upper-midrange, and way too much lower-treble, so it might come off as fatiguing for some listeners. The bass, however, is to die for. It’s got healthy amounts of both sub-bass and mid-bass, and for sheer slam and texture, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, in its price bracket that comes close. It doesn’t hurt that it also has technicalities comparable to a lot of the better sub-$200 IEMs. If you feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth here, let’s just say you got a fake (I’m kidding, but I wouldn’t be surprised).
#2 Moondrop Aria: The Aria, KXXS, KXXX, or the Starfield, it doesn’t matter. Once you’ve heard one of them, you’ve more or less heard them all. The Aria’s just the cheapest, latest instance of Moondrop undercutting themselves again. And who are we to complain? The Aria follows a tuning that’s not dissimilar to Harman, but it takes on more warmth and is generally a whole lot easier-on-the-ears. It’s not the most resolving IEM in its price bracket (it’s actually slower in the transients and doesn’t layer as well as its younger brother, the SSR). However, timbre is oh-so-pleasing and natural; this IEM’s certainly not lacking in that icky, musical buzzword. This is one of my favorite sub-$100 IEMs, one I can just pop-in and enjoy for hours on end.
#1 Etymotic ER2XR: So you want what is objectively the best IEM that $200 can buy? Then this is the IEM to look at. The ER2XR follows Etymotic’s interpretation of the classic Diffuse Field tuning. And if you’re asking me, it’s better. The overall sound here is a reference-oriented one with a touch of “oomph” down-low. Bass is lacking texture, but is quite clean with adequate slam. Some might find the ER2XR’s midrange slightly upper-midrange forward; however, I’ve never found it shouty. It has good technicalities too, probably the best I’ve heard under $200. The ER2XR’s biggest weaknesses would be its darker treble response and narrow imaging. Oh, and the fit. The nasty, nasty fit that you’d better hope you can live with for a price-to-performance ratio so good that it’s almost unfair.
And there you have it - ten IEMs that I give my stamp of approval to. Of course, you can see that I don’t like all of these IEMs. Some of these IEMs made the list out of respect, or simply because I wanted to meet a requisite of ten IEMs on the list. I think some words of parting are also warranted here. While I might not make budget IEMs the focus of my content, there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying budget IEMs. I firmly believe that there is something for everyone in this hobby; likewise, it’s not hard to empathize with the thrill of the chase and stumbling upon that rare gem.
Nice ranking. Now I look forward to sub-$500 and sub-$1000 lists also
This is really great work as always @Precogvision.
Some Thoughts on Lossless SQ
Recently, Apple Music announced the release of lossless music which is big news for us audiophiles. I know I myself was pretty excited when the feature showed up on my iPhone a few days ago! But lossless music sucks up lots of space and bandwidth. And let’s be honest: Can you actually tell the difference between lossy and lossless? Of course, it’s easy to say you hear a difference between track file A & B when it’s sighted. But placebo is very real. So what better way to find out for certain than taking on a few nasty ABX tests? You know, just the thing that would have most audiophiles tails tucked, running away? Well, that’s exactly what I decided to do for fun.
Here’s the first test I ran. I could definitely discern an audible difference here; scoring a 9/10 has a p-value of less than 1% which is well within the realm of statistical significance. In order to pass this test, I focused on only one section of the song; specifically, the part where it explodes into loudness at about a minute in. I ignored pretty much everything else when I was doing the test.
Here’s the third test I ran using MP3 320 vs. FLAC 24/48. I actually failed the second test using these same files, getting only 6/10 correct. Even getting 7/10 correct only corresponds to a p-value of 0.11 (using a straight binomial pdf calculation) which most would not deem statistically significant. In the future, I might be able to score higher (as I was suffering from listener fatigue at this point), but it stands that I was mostly acting on gut instinct for these comparisons.
Finally, after taking a break, here’s another track I tried playing with. The files are 24-bit FLAC and MP3 320 respectively. Once upon a time - unblinded - I could have sworn I heard a noticeable difference between the two tracks. But as you can see, I might as well have been guessing at the beginning! Up until test #7, I actually got more wrong (way more LOL) than I did correct. Why is that? Simply put, my approach was wrong. I was trying to discern a difference in clarity using Taeyeon’s vocals. Unfortunately, it’s actually very difficult to pick up a difference in sheer note clarity, particularly in the midrange. Recognizing that I couldn’t discern a difference using her vocals, I switched up my approach. You can see that my score steadily picks up starting from #8 - in fact, I get 7/8 correct after this point! So what changed? Well, like the Sawano Hiroyuki track, I started listening for loudness. An MP3 file’s dynamic range is more compressed, so - listening carefully - it came off just a hint louder on the MP3 in the beginning.
You can see that the differences I used to pick up on differences between the files mainly came down to one thing: dynamic range. If you want to pass one of these tests, it’s mostly going to come down to listening for stuff like noise floor, peak loudness, and reverb trails. Honestly, I don’t think (the vast majority of) people can even tell the difference between MP3 320 and FLAC based off of sheer note clarity. I’m certainly not able to. And you know what’s even crazier? These are cherry-picked songs, songs that I have listened to hundreds, if not thousands, of times. If I was taking a test like this under duress, or using tracks I was not familiar with, I highly doubt I would pass. For better or worse, the audible differences between lossy and lossless are teeny-tiny, to the extent of which they’re pretty much negligible for most people. Don’t even get me started on lossless vs. 24-bit or MQA, oh boy.
Now, am I going to stop using lossless files? Hell no. Just like anyone else, I’m a fat sucker for FOMO. I don’t want to know that I’m getting something lesser if I could have better. And hey, if I do hear a difference sighted - even if it’s just that juicy placebo - I still heard a difference, right? That said, I still wanted to put it out there that ABX tests like this are a great way of keeping things in check the next time you think you hear a “huge” difference. They’re way more difficult to pass than you’d think, and even if many of us don’t like them, they could probably help us save a ton of money.
Etymotic EVO Impressions
Hey guys, the EVO demo unit arrived today. As usual, I’m going to eschew from commentary on the physical aspects. I think others will cover those much more in-depth than I care to. The only thing I will comment on is the cable. It is the thinnest cable I have seen on an IEM; I really hope this gets an update because it tangles like mad. Listening impressions are from about an hour of listening off of my DX300.
As expected from Etymotic, EVO’s tuning is pretty competent; it falls close to what we’ve seen from Etymotic’s other IEMs. Bass is somewhere between the ER4XR and ER2XR in terms of quantity. It’s solid, clean BA bass. This is a reference-oriented IEM, so most will be familiar with the flat lower-midrange contrasted to an elevated upper-midrange. This results in leaner notes and a more upfront presentation, but should sound quite transparent. The weakest point of EVO’s tuning is the treble response. I had to run a couple sine-sweeps to confirm what I was hearing. In this case, I think the graph mostly depicts what I observed. You have a peak at 8kHz in the mid-treble, a dip after this point from roughly 10-14kHz, and then an aggressive rise to 15-16kHz. However, the amplitude of 15-16kHz is not high relative to the lower-treble. So while it’s fairly noticeable in a sine sweep, the EVO generally comes off lacking air. Not a bad tuning overall, but I think some of Etymotic’s other stuff has the EVO beat in this department.
For technicalities though, the EVO is probably the best of its brethren. It handily out-resolves my ER2XR and sounded about par with the Moondrop Blessing 2 - for resolution at least - from a brief comparison. Imaging is a small step forward from the other Etymotic IEMs; otherwise, the EVO seems to maintain the compressed center-image (therefore, lack of depth) that I noted on the ER3XR and ER4XR. Surprisingly, I want to say the EVO has pretty good dynamic contrast. It doesn’t sound as flat as the ER4XR does from memory. If you’re sensitive to BA timbre, you’ll want to avoid the EVO. It’s got quite a lot of grit.
Good stuff overall, I think. Whether the EVO’s $500 solid is more up for debate, as the market is just so competitive these days. I’ll refrain from dropping a score for now to avoid shell-shocking any new readers to the thread, but I think most can guess where I’d place it.
How’s the insertion depth/comfort?
I’m using the double flanges, and it seems to be OK. I actually don’t think it goes quite as deep as the normal Ety design. Might take some getting used to if you’ve not tried an Ety before!
My Thoughts on Macro-dynamics
Here’s a fun audiophile buzzword: macro-dynamics . I’m sure some have come across the word in my writing before. But if you’ve ever wondered what I’m talking about, or why I think this is such an important aspect of sound reproduction, then this post is for you. As a disclaimer, please don’t consider this an authoritative post on the topic. This is simply my interpretation of what I’m hearing based on personal experience and what I’ve read.
First, let’s establish what "dynamics” are in music. I often see this word mistaken for the equivalent of how hard a transducer slams (or just thrown around as some sort of catch-all term for bass); however, the word really has a quite different meaning! Dynamics are the variations in loudness in a given track. It’s probably no more complicated than what you’re already thinking. A “dynamic swing” is simply a transition between a decibel peak (loud section) and valley (quiet section), or vice versa. Then as the prefix “macro” implies, macro-dynamics are large-scale swings. They encompass a song exploding into loudness or suddenly shifting into a quiet section; of course, these decibel shifts can also occur more gradually (crescendo vs. decrescendo). On the other hand, micro-dynamics are more intimate swings, so the nuance of individual instrument lines and, say, vocal inflections. I won’t be covering micro-dynamics further in this post, as that’s a post for another time.
Thus, we’ve established a foundation for what macro-dynamics are. More specifically, though, macro-dynamics can be further broken down into two subsets to my ears: contrast and weight .
Dynamic contrast is likely the term most readers will be familiar with. This is simply the extent to which a transducer is able to scale the difference between a track’s peak loudness and minimum amplitude. Of course, not every transducer is able to do this well. Some transducers sound like they’re always on peak loudness, some skew in the opposite direction, and some don’t seem to go either way entirely! The end result is what I refer to as dynamic compression. Only a transducer that does none of the above - that is, scales decibel gradations high, low, and in the middle - can be considered to have good dynamic contrast. A pro tip if you want to find out for yourself? A hallmark of a transducer with good dynamic contrast is one where you find yourself turning up the volume on quiet sections of tracks and, conversely, turning down the volume on louder parts of tracks.
Arguably even more important, though, is the weight of a transducer. And unfortunately, this is where things get more wishy-washy and I’ll exit the scope of some of the definitions I outlined earlier. That aside, this quality is most obvious if you have ever listened to a two-channel system. It encompasses not only the force with which a transducer articulates dynamic swings - what some might describe as macrodynamic punch - but also a general sense of pressure, gravity , to the cadence and background of a track. Macro-dynamic weight and the aforementioned contrast do not always go hand-in-hand. I have heard many transducers with good dynamic contrast, but poor weight, and vice versa. And of course, this will also depend on the mastering of the tracks themselves you’re listening to. I find that frequency response can aid in this perception of weight - generally with more bass - but it is not mandatory. When I listen to my Genelec speakers, for example, their frequency response is near flat (and they roll-off in the bass); yet, they have a terrific sense of macrodynamic weight. I want to be clear that this sense of weight is different from a sense of attack immediacy which some associate with good macrodynamic punch; to the contrary, most faster transducers I’ve heard do not do this quality well. Nor is it the same as “note-weight,” the thickness or thinness of notes. Nowadays, weight tends to be the more important (and more difficult to describe) of the two metrics for me.
Speaking of which, why should macro-dynamics matter to you? Well, if you can’t hear dynamics to start with, then I wouldn’t worry about it. And I don’t say this to be patronizing! I genuinely think it saves you a lot of hassle. But I think most people can start to pick up on this stuff given close listening. It’s definitely something that I’ve gotten better at discerning over time. And I think for many listeners, macro-dynamics are what dictate engagement factor. When macro-dynamics have been done justice, drops seem to hit harder, the chorus is imbued with more emotion, and generally, you find yourself on the edge of your seat for what will come next in a song. Sure, it’s a cliche, but music sounds alive . On the opposite end of the spectrum, what if you just want to kick back and relax? That’s (one heck of) an easier requisite to meet; nonetheless, you again see the importance of macro-dynamics (rather, lack thereof, in this instance).
Overall, I hope this lends some more background to a term that I use frequently in my writing, and thanks for reading another so-called “philosophy” post from yours truly.
Man, I’ve almost pulled the trigger on this one many times to be lured away by another sexy girl. Most recently, the ANOLE v14. Previously, the Odin. I know that the U12t is one of your favs, but given I have the tia Fourte’s, not sure. Would you go Violet, U12t or Viento or even Annihilator? I have a friend who swears by the Viento. I prefer IEM’s that feel like they are part of my head, zero fatigue, immersive imaging, and bright resolution.
Hi Michael, between the four you listed, I would still go for the U12t. It makes the Violet redundant, plus it has Apex technology which alleviates listener fatigue. However, the Annihilator is essentially the opposite flavor of the U12t with a much brighter, more forward presentation - a good IEM to consider if you’re looking for that. However, that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with zero fatigue as much. If you are going to purchase the Viento, I would recommend the CIEM. The universal is difficult to get a fit with because it was designed to mimic the CIEM as closely as possible. If you do not get an ideal fit, the upper-midrange and treble will sound sibilant.
Tremendously useful post @Precogvision. This is a really useful post. Thank you.
Tanchjim Tanya Impressions
I heard the Tanya a couple weeks ago at a friend’s house and was really impressed with what I heard. It’s not often that a budget IEM catches my attention, but this one had me hooked - I even ended up buying my own unit halfway through demoing! It doesn’t hurt that the Tanya is only $20, a far cry from the pricing of Tanchjim’s other IEMs which I haven’t been as hot on. Anyways, it arrived yesterday, and I’ve been listening to them for the past day. Here are my quick thoughts.
- Clean unboxing experience that belies its price.
- Includes a micro-fiber baggy as a means of carry and an assortment of silicon tips. I chose to use the tips that came on the IEM.
- Tanya itself is very lightweight and has a decent cable. Build is just OK, and I can tell that one shell is slightly looser than the left. L/R indicators are hard to read, but there’s a nub on the non-removable cable to indicate the left side. You can also use the microphone button to control play/pause and forward/backward on iPhone which is what I was hoping for.
- Isolation is below average. Comfort is OK for me.
- Bonus points: I can lay on my side using this IEM which I don’t find often.
Here’s my personal unit measured off of my IEC-711 coupler. The usual disclaimers apply: There’s a resonance peak at 8kHz, don’t trust the measurements after this point, yada-yada.
It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint the overall sound signature of the Tanya, but to my ears, it’s somewhere along the lines of “smooth, slightly dark, and with a touch of fun”.
The bass of the Tanya is up my alley. It’s a pronounced, mid-bass oriented shelf that starts rolling-off down past ~50hZ and clearly pushes into the lower-midrange to inject a good deal of warmth. While I would’ve preferred more sub-bass, I actually think the Tanya’s better in the slam and texture department than their own Oxygen IEM. It’s definitely not as clean (or particularly clean in general), but since when have I ever been one to shy away from dirty bass? Interestingly, I don’t find the midrange particularly lean either. It skews toward the warmer side to my ears and sports a controlled rise to the pinna compensation and upper-midrange that circumvents any shout or sibilance. Very, very nicely done. The Tanya is heavily reliant on lower-treble as is expected of a more V-shaped IEM. Still, it’s refreshing to see that Tanchjim hasn’t taken “creative liberties” here - such as the 5kHz peak of death - that so many budget IEMs exhibit. Even a lot of IEMs I’d consider well-tuned screw up this area for me, making them fatiguing. For air and extension, the Tanya doesn’t really have much after 10kHz; I do find it mildly dark up top which contributes to a smoother listen. It doesn’t sound dead rolled-off, at least.
For technicalities, the Tanya is obviously not going to be the strongest performer. I’d put it around a “C/C+” grade myself. Transient attack is noticeably blunted and the dynamic range of the Tanya is downwards-compressed. That in mind, perhaps most surprising about the Tanya would be its imaging chops. It has slightly wider, taller soundstage than most budget IEMs that I’ve heard. I also hear a good sense of layering ability (sense of space between instruments) that belies its bassy tuning and price point. These qualities are probably attributable to the more open design. Unsurprisingly, thanks to its single DD, the Tanya has pleasant timbre too.
Some are probably wondering whether the Tanya is better than the legendary Sony MH755. Inevitably, this will break some hearts, but the answer is a flat “no”. The MH755 has better bass texture and a solid technical edge on the Tanya. It’s important to remember the MH755 is an exception. An exception, mind you, that is extremely difficult to find nowadays. As the MH755 continues to edge out of the picture, I’d argue the Tanya is poised to become the de-facto, V-shaped IEM for $20. And on the flip side of things, the Tanya sports some snazzy accessories and is easier on the ears than the MH755 which I found fatiguing. Now, these are both pretty bassy IEMs; let’s say you don’t like bass. Then you’re going to want the Final Audio E500. It’s that simple.
Tanchjim may have hit a roadblock with some of their other IEMs, but I’m glad to see that they’ve recognized this, pivoted, and are back swinging. I really like the Tanya. It does a lot of things right and very little wrong; really, that’s all most $20 IEMs can ask for. Even more surprising, then, is that the Tanya also has engagement factor by virtue of its above-average imaging chops. For listeners who enjoy a smooth, fun listen and don’t want to break the bank, the Tanya is one of the few IEMs I’d say is worth the blind-buy.
Oriolus Traillii JP Impressions
Do I even need to introduce this IEM? Well, just in case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the most hyped IEM in recent memory on a certain another forum. To date, there has not been a negative review that I could find about the Traillii. I repeat, not a single, negative review. That’s truly uncanny, and suffice it to say that the Traillii’s reputation precedes it. Of course, we all know that’s no substitute for actually hearing it for one’s self. And while the Traillii’s managed to elude my grasp time and time again, that ends today. No comments on the IEM’s build or packaging (not that there’s much to take about anyways), you know how I roll.
So onto those sound impressions. The bass of the Trailli is characterized by a generous sub-bass curve that falls under the 64 Audio U12t in quantity, but pushes into the mid-bass a hair further to inject more warmth. Not bad on the tuning front; of course, intangibles are another matter entirely. And hey, it’s pretty decent actually. Is it better than the 64 Audio U12t or the Hidition Violet on this front as a whole, though? I don’t think so, hence my use of “decent”. The dynamic range of the Trailli’s bass skews middle to upwards-compressed, and it doesn’t sound as sweet and fluid as my BA bass benchmarks. Anything with a heavy, successive bassline like Dreamcatcher’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” starts sounding monotonous to me, despite being rendered cleanly and with a little more “oomph” than your average BA monitor. I’d imagine this holds even more true with tracks tokening natural instruments. The Trailli’s bass, then, is something that takes a back seat for me; it’s not the star of the show.
The midrange of the Traillii is interesting. It seems to fall somewhere between a reference tuning and what some might call a more relaxed, “Western” tuning. To this end, you have slightly more warmth in the lower-midrange and less pinna compensation than would qualify a reference tuning, but it’s followed by a small bump at 4kHz so that the presence region with female vocals is actually slightly forward. I couldn’t detect any issues with shout or sibilance, and I think this has been nicely done. Listening to IU’s “Blueming,” the Traillii maintains sufficient note texture without delving into grit or being totally smoothed over in decay, which is a pleasant surprise for my preferences. The Trailli has aptly danced the knife’s edge here too.
Not so pleasant surprises? Well, I hate to say it, but the Traillii’s treble is nothing special. It’s neither a poor EST implementation, nor is it dissimilar to other middling implementations I’ve heard in the past. A quick A/B session with the Elysian Annihilator was enough to tell me that the Traillii is a couple steps behind in the intangible department. Take for example Girls Generation’s “Into the New World” and the percussive hits in the front channel, ever-so-slightly left, from 0:10 to 0:25 seconds in: they sound soft and lack attack incisiveness. That’s probably not helped by the Traillii’s lower-treble recession, but to the point of incisiveness, it’s a matter of speed too. There’s a lot of quick, playful background shimmer and sparkle to the track that the Traillii just seems to blur over. Sheer extension on the Traillii is also not impressive; maybe about par with the Thieaudio Clairvoyance (which is great for $700 in this department) at best. For such a costly IEM with 4 ESTs, in my opinion only, the overall treble response here is disappointing. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of what a true EST - or proper treble production - should sound like.
For technicalities, though, the Trailli is pretty refined. I don’t find it a particularly aggressive transducer; however, there is a good sense of macro-dynamic contrast with which I found myself jacking the volume up-and-down initially. It’s overall resolving ability is near - or at - the top with little nuances being picked up that I generally don’t think too much about. Notes are articulated very crisply, sans the treble. I’ll need more time on this front. It’s very easy to tell if a transducer is good or bad; it’s much more difficult to ascertain how good, and even more so for something like sheer detail retrieval. Either way: impressive stuff.
Imaging on the Trailli is a mixed bag. It shines with stuff panned directly to the left and right, and layering is top-tier. On Sawano Hiroyuki’s “Binary Star” everything has a well-defined location on the stage and the Trailli largely captures the ambiance of the track. To the point of “largely,” vocals still come positionally from the head for me; ergo, there is a lack of depth. Not really surprising on that front, but I do wish the Trailli had more soundstage height too. I certainly don’t get the impression that I’m in a cathedral (at least in the closest sense possible) or listening to 2-channel speakers like I do with the Sony IER-Z1R. Probably my biggest gripe on the front of itangibles would be the transient density, or sense of physicality, with which notes present themselves. The Traillii’s not the worst offender I’ve heard in this department, and I wouldn’t say it sounds particularly plasticky (like, say, the Anole VX), but I think it could be better. Maybe if one enjoys a slightly more “ethereal,” laidback presentation this might appeal to them, but it’s pushing it for me. Coherency is expectedly good with the Trailli carrying itself with a smooth, almost decided ease.
I think that about does it for my sound impressions. But not once have I mentioned the Traillii’s price, so here you go: this IEM will set you back
$6000 - oops, scratch that - make it $6600 following a recent price hike from the manufacturer. I could buy a car with that money. Even as an audiophile, I don’t think anyone can reasonably justify this type of purchase.
You can also see that at most every turn, I’ve brought up a comparison with which the Traillii falls short to my ears. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not fair, some IEMs are specialists”. Well, this thing is $6600: Is it so unreasonable to expect it to blow everything else I’ve heard out of the water? I certainly don’t think so. And you can’t even purchase it without the unwieldy stock cable to offset some of the hefty cost. I imagine that for most listeners, then, the Traillii will be an instance of which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It has to be. But even within that context, I struggle to say the Traillii is truly better, a decided upgrade, over some of the other jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none IEMs on the market.
This is still a great sounding IEM - among the best - but most things about it leave me somewhat perplexed. It also probably helps that I didn’t have to spend $6K just to hear the Traillii. Here, I have to give a shout out to the very generous reader who had it sent out for review. Even if it some stuff hasn’t been to my taste, you’ve continued to send me a ridiculous amount of very expensive IEMs that I would otherwise probably never be able to hear.
Critical listening was done with the very expensive and microphonic stock cable, stock tips, and my iBasso DX300. All comparisons made in these impressions were done with direct A/B-ing to the IEMs in question.
Great Impressions @Precogvision. Honesty is always the best policy and I really appreciate that you haven’t been caught up in the hype. It did make me a little suspicious seeing not one negative review about. That price tag is even beyond the pail for me and I own the EE ODIN.
You may need to hide under one now @Precogvision !
Just kidding, thanks for the honest review of an IEM that I very much doubt I will encounter in the wild.
Very nice review. You may have not found a negative review of the bird, but I have not seen one saying it is worth the price.
Next one up gotta be the 64 Audio U6t
Good honest review - I’m sure you had to think carefully before going against the grain, so I appreciate your candor. Frankly, since I first heard of this IEM it has sounded to me like the sort of thing aimed at those with more money than sense.
Truth! This hobby is a good example of “you get what you pay for” not applying at all. Price doesn’t always reflect performance when it comes to audio reproduction.
Hey all, the 64 Audio U6t demo unit arrived today!
Some quick physical thoughts:
- Very sleek design. Faceplate is reminiscent of the Nio, but in black. Grey blasting to the aluminum shell of the IEM.
- Expectedly, no issues with fit or comfort. Fatigue is a non-issue thanks to Apex. Isolation tends to be slightly below average for the same reason.
- Almost cried when I saw it: No memory wire on the cable. I think this is the first 64A IEM where I actually opted to use the stock cable. It’s still not the best cable, but needless to say it’s a major step forward. Props to 64 Audio for listening.
What I hear with the U6t is something of a mix-and-match between the Nio and U12t’s tunings. It’s a warmer, more saturated sound. I think I’d describe this as U12t’s less-refined, more tubby baby brother. The U6t’s bass shelf is warmer, more mid-bass oriented than the U12t’s, falling more along the lines of the Nio. This is really good BA bass even if it doesn’t have the cleanest bass lines. I wouldn’t be surprised if the U6t was using the same Sonion (I believe?) woofers as the U12t. These woofers are some of the most organic BAs I’ve heard with a great sense of texture. They’re slightly soft in transient attack on the U6t, more so than on the U12t. Pop-in the M20 module and decay gets even more elongated - much more than I’ve heard from most BA monitors - whilst maintaining an excellent sense of physicality. The latter is where most BA IEMs with large bass shelves flop hard; generally, they end up sounding overly farty and plasticky. Not the U6t.
Again, I feel like I’m greeting an old friend when it comes to the U6t’s midrange. It’s considerably thicker than the U12t’s midrange, but not to the degree of the Nio in the lower-midrange. I think this is an optimal balance. No sibilance, no shout, just so pleasant on the ears. I also hear decent depth on the U6t. The U12t definitely achieves this, to some extent, with the use of an upper-midrange recession and a more relaxed pinna compensation. By contrast, the U6t’s center image is less defined and larger to my ears.
The treble response of the U6t is not dissimilar to the U12t. You have your bump at 5kHz, then something of a mid-treble suckout - so there’s not much sparkle - followed by a rise to 14kHz which plateaus at 15-16kHz. Mostly works for me, but your mileage might vary as that’s pretty high up. I do feel like the very last fringes of extension can get lost on the U6t, and it doesn’t help that the U6t is more bassy than the U12t too. Perhaps the MX module, or something in between, would rectify this minor complaint.
Technicalities on the U6t are…alright. Honestly, I think they could be better. There’s a lot of sub-kilobuck stuff like the Moondrop S8 and Variations that are on par with the U6t, or ahead, if we’re talking about sheer note definition. Thankfully, 64 Audio’s IEMs have always shined with the more “latent” intangibles and the U6t bears no exception. The U6t has some serious dynamic range; there’s an excellent sense of physicality and pressure that follows each swing from quiet-to-loud and the general cadence of a given track’s backdrop. It never ceases to amaze me how flat other BA IEMs sound by comparison; I don’t know how 64 Audio does it, but it’s something I can’t stop talking about. Timbre on the U6t is also very pleasant. There’s little plasticky-ness to notes and decay is far from being etched. You do lose some micro-dynamics going this route; they’re not particularly flat on the U6t, so much as they are just smoothed over. A small price to pay, at least for my preferences. The U6t’s imaging is decent. It falls more towards the murkiness of the Nio with the M15 module, and clearly lacks the U12t’s next-level layering chops, but I do get the characteristic sense of ambiance that all of the 64 Audio IEMs deliver.
This is definitely a very good IEM. Worth it? That’s harder to say. At a kilobuck, I’d be very happy to give this a straight recommendation. It makes for a nice foil to the Andromeda 2020 and clearly distinguishes itself from the other kilobuck gatekeepers. But $1300 is pushing into used U12t territory, which I’d still take over the U6t for rather obvious reasons. Great IEM for warm-heads on a slightly tighter budget, then.